Why don’t we eat seafood at Christmas?

It may not sound as appetising and gluttonous as devouring birds and beasts but a seafood Christmas is something we should all consider

For the main course, try a whole turbot. Photograph: iStock

For the main course, try a whole turbot. Photograph: iStock

 

Where do our Christmas traditions come from? How long have they been here? Can we make new ones or are we condemned to repeat our past food experiences, passing them unconsciously to our children. 

Why do we eat turkey and ham every Christmas? Turkey came from America in the 16th century. They were big and cheap. Popularised by Henry VIII and Queen Victoria, turkey was a practical solution to the problem of large families. 

Ham, on the other hand, seems to be associated with pagan Germanic tribes celebrating the new year. Indeed, most of the other food and drink traditions that we associate with Christmas all arise out of earlier pagan festivals. It seems Christmas has gone from being a drunken raucous festival in the Middle Ages to a much more family-centred one in the Victorian era. We owe our own version of Christmas to the latter approach, so our tradition of ham and turkey is a relatively recent one.

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Why don’t we eat seafood at Christmas? It’s probably the best time of the year for our shellfish and seafood due the waters being cooler. I know it may not sound as appetising and gluttonous as devouring birds and beasts but a seafood Christmas is something I think we should all consider, certainly in light of the impact of industrial farming.

So what would a seafood Christmas look like? Imagine starters of smoked salmon, native oysters with buttermilk and trout roe, langoustines from the Aran Islands poached in brown butter, steamed mussels from Killary harbour with dillisk and clams and cockles cooked in cider or even craft beer. I also love to make a crab salad with as many sea vegetables as I can find. Throw in a few winter pickles to balance the lot.

For the main course, try a whole turbot or John Dory on the bone (baked will take about 30 minutes) which will feed four to six people. Your fish monger will help you. Or even bake a side of organic salmon and serve it with a nice potato salad.  

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